|CHRISTOPHER N. GEARY
||PROFILE OF A MARTIAL ARTS MASTER
In the spring of 2006 I received an e-mail from a martial artist who wanted to know, “What are you doing for the world, and what are you influencing your students to do? What are you modeling to your students that you’re giving back to the community?”
Thinking about answers to these questions brought back memories of various types of community outreach I have done over the years. I decided this would be a good topic for a chapter of my autobiography.
One of my earliest efforts along these lines was an educational show on a local TV station. When I had a school down at 30th and Harney Street years ago, I did five or six shows for Ben Gray’s “Kaleidoscope” TV show, which was broadcast on Sunday afternoons. His two daughters were students in my school. Ben brought a camera to my school and interviewed me a couple of times, and I demonstrated some techniques. I enjoyed doing the shows, because it gave me a chance to show people my school and let them know what kempo was about.
I have given seminars and demonstrations for a number of groups over the years, often free of charge. One time I went to UNO and did a seminar for some people who were physically handicapped. I showed them some basic techniques that they could use to defend themselves. For example, for a person who had no arms, I was able to show them how to use their legs to fend off an attacker. It felt really good to be able to let people know what they were capable of doing in spite of their handicaps.
I’ve given various types of seminars for colleges, women’s groups, and so forth. Sometimes I get the feeling that people get a kick out of having me show them the techniques, but they have no intention of taking it a step further and enrolling in classes. They seem to view it as entertainment more than anything else. I didn’t mind helping people out and even teaching them for free, but after a while it got to the point where it just seemed to be a waste of my time and theirs. People were amazed at the stuff that I taught them, but they just didn’t want to make a commitment.
In 1997 I did a Child Safety Awareness Program at my school at 30th and Harney Street. I put together a flyer inviting kids to sign up for a free Child Safety Awareness Program, and I had tens of thousands of copies of the flyer made up for distribution to students in every public elementary school in Omaha. I remember unloading box after box of flyers at the administrative office of the Omaha Public Schools. It took me about 20 minutes just to unload the boxes.
My plan was for the kids to come to my school for this free program on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon once a week for four weeks in a row. A fireman would talk to the kids one week, and the next week a police officer would come in, and so on. These guest speakers taught the kids all kinds of things, like how to drop to the floor and roll in a fire, why they shouldn’t talk to strangers, and things like that.
I remember working hard to line up speakers from the police department and the fire department. Quite frankly, these people were a nightmare to deal with. I pretty much had to put them on the spot and drag them out to talk to the kids. I just wanted to get a fireman to come out on a Saturday afternoon for two hours, but I soon found that I had to spend a lot of time on the phone trying to get somebody to come out. We’re talking about people whose salaries are paid by the taxpayers and who are supposed to be serving the public, but they didn’t want to take some time out of their day on a Saturday to come out and talk to some kids. They eventually agreed to help, but it was quite a project.
About 150 kids signed up, but only half of them showed up and completed the program. Participants ranged in age from 4 to 12. This program had a dual purpose: to bring more people into the school and to help Omaha children become more aware of their surroundings and learn how to handle different situations that could threaten their safety. In addition to bringing in guest speakers on various safety topics, I taught the kids some kempo techniques so they could gain confidence and be better able to defend themselves.
At the end of the Child Safety Awareness Program we had a graduation ceremony, and I asked Mayor Hal Daub to come out to my school for the event. He handed out certificates of completion to all of the participants. I made the headline news on Fox 42 that night. I did get some signups from the publicity, but not very many. About half of the new students probably dropped out of my school in the first month or two.
I enjoyed teaching the kids, and I also learned some valuable lessons along the way. A funny story will show you what I’m talking about. I had a professional photographer come out to the graduation ceremony. If somebody wanted to have their child’s picture taken with the mayor, we were going to charge them about $10 or so. My school was supposed to get a small percentage back from the photographer. I just wanted to collect a little bit of money to help pay for the refreshments that were served at the reception and to reimburse people for some of the time they had put in to help with the program. Keep in mind that the parents did not have to pay a penny for their kids to participate in this Child Safety Awareness Program. It was free, and it lasted for a whole month. I was surprised to find that these people were not even willing to spend a few dollars to get their child’s picture taken with the mayor. They brought their own cameras and took their own pictures so it wouldn’t cost them anything.
From this experience, I learned that some people are only interested in trying to get something for nothing. I had gone out of my way to set up this program, I had spent hours on the phone trying to get people to come out and talk to the kids, and the parents couldn’t even spend a few dollars for a picture. Do you think they would have been willing to enroll their children in kempo classes? Not likely.
My schools have given demonstrations in movie theaters and not charged anything. When a new martial arts movie comes to Omaha, the movie theaters will contact a representative of my schools and say, “Hey, we’d really like you guys to come out and show some techniques.” We don’t charge anything for it. People will grab business cards and brochures, and there have been a couple of signups from these events, but the results have been very minimal.
One of my longtime students, Mark Lyons, asked me to do a seminar for his co-workers at Mutual of Omaha. Years later, he wrote the following description:
"At the time, we took turns being responsible for presenting a topic of choice at our monthly staff meetings. I was brand new to kempo at the time, and everything we learned had a ‘Wow, that’s so cool’ aspect to it. So I thought it would be neat to ask Professor Geary to come to the meeting and show the group some techniques. I just remember all of my co-workers grimacing and standing on their tiptoes in order to see me on the ground twisting and suffering in a wrist or finger lock. Everyone really enjoyed the meeting, although many questioned my mental capacity."
I also remember doing a local fundraising event for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a cancer treatment center in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a punch-a-thon, kick-a-thon, or something similar to raise money for this organization.
Back in the 1990s I did a Rape Prevention Program for women, and I was interviewed on one of the talk radio stations. This was another free seminar, and the turnout was pretty bad. I don’t think I got very many signups from that seminar either. The lack of participation was particularly disappointing in view of the fact that rape is such a common occurrence in the United States. According to FBI statistics, a rape occurs about every five to seven minutes—and these are only the rapes that are reported to the police. It has been estimated that about 73% of rapes go unreported.
When people call my school because they’ve seen an advertisement, often their attitude is, “I’ve seen your ad. What kind of a deal are you willing to give me?” Most of these people are just tire kickers who pretty much waste my time. If I could offer some advice to owners of small businesses, it would be this: be careful with advertising, because it can attract the wrong kinds of customers. I received this same advice early in my career when I was talking with owners of other kempo schools all over the country. I wanted to find out how other people ran their schools so I would know what to do and what to avoid doing. I talked with the owner of a school in Wichita, Kansas, and I believe he told me that he was about to file for bankruptcy (or was in the process of doing so) because of all the money he had lost on advertising. This man said, “When people are ready to train, they’ll find you. Don’t spend a lot of money on ads.” It seems as though most of the people who sell advertising just want to make a quick buck. They want to persuade you to buy a big ad so they can make a good commission, and they don’t care about what kind of results you get from the money you spend.
People also need to realize that when they’re going after something worthwhile, whether it’s earning a black belt or building a successful business, they’re not going to get results immediately. They need to make a commitment, and it’s going to take some time. Whether you’re doing martial arts or anything else—writing or going to college or being a lawyer—you’ve got to practice this stuff all the time. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
Over the years I have found that the people who make the best students, the ones who will be prepared to make a serious commitment to learning kempo, are those who actually take the time to do research. If people want to learn from the best, they will be motivated to make an investment of time, effort, and money. I have students who drive all the way from Bellevue (about 25 miles) to train with me at my school at 180th and Pacific in Omaha. When my school was at 30th and Harney, I had students who drove in from Council Bluffs, Iowa. I’ve even had people call me from Lincoln (50 miles away) to talk about enrolling in my school. My best students usually are not the ones who decided to come in because they saw an advertisement or attended a free seminar, but the ones who have done some research.
This is probably common sense, but the only reason I would put so much attention to detail into my websites and the decor of my school is that I care about the quality of the students’ instruction. If I just wanted to make money, why would I put so much money back into the system—the websites, the school, the layout? My schools are here for the long term. A lot of martial art schools are just four walls and a roof. Their whole philosophy is “We’re going to take you for as much as we can, and then we’re going to close our doors, because our main purpose is making money.” My attention to detail reflects my philosophy of teaching kempo. This is an art that requires patience and commitment. We are not just going through the motions and learning pretty movements or dance steps as in some other martial art styles. Kempo techniques are realistic and practical. The techniques must be practiced repeatedly so that when a dangerous situation arises, you will be fully prepared both mentally and physically to protect yourself without having to stop and think about it. Dangerous situations come up without warning, and your mind and body must be strong enough to react appropriately.
To sum up, life has taught me that when you give of yourself to people, you will not always get very much in return. That doesn’t mean you should stop giving, but it does mean you may need to adjust your expectations. Someone once told me, “You have a thankless job.” This is true in some ways, but teaching the martial arts can also be very rewarding because the more I teach, the more I excel as an instructor and as a martial artist.